The LCD-2 sounds just the way its accompanying frequency response chart suggests that it would, meaning that—for starters—the headphone sounds extraordinarily smooth and evenly balanced from the lowest bass notes right on up through the middle of the midrange. I can’t begin to overemphasize how important this broad, multi-octave region of smoothness and balance really is, especially in light of the fact that this is a region where many other headphones (even some quite expensive ones) tend to exhibit frequency response peaks and troughs galore. In contrast, the LCD-2 sounds dead accurate throughout this region, with no hints of unevenness whatsoever.
The upper midrange and top end of the LCD-2 are also relatively smoothly balanced despite the aforementioned small peak just above 10kHz, although they are shelved downward in level somewhat. Some listeners will feel this characteristic gives the LCD-2 a slightly “dark sounding” cast, while others—especially those who find excess upper midrange/treble forwardness objectionable—will embrace the LCD-2’s tonal balance with open arms (er, ears). Note: Audeze says that its very recently release Rev 2 planar magnetic drivers offer even more neutrally balanced upper mids and highs—so that you may find that current production LCD-2’s offer even more accurate balance than the Playback review samples did.*
* Audeze has graciously agreed to let us try a set of LCD-2’s fitted with the new drivers, so readers can expect a small follow-up review a few weeks from now.
Two overarching, and breathtaking good, characteristics we observed in the LCD-2 involve the related qualities of resolution and focus. If you listen closely to the Audeze headphone, you’ll discover that they reach way down deep into the mix to reproduce extremely subtle textural and timbral details that most headphones—including many top-tier models—simply miss. They also offer almost blindingly fast transient speeds, so that it becomes absolute child’s play to pick out even the smallest variations in attack and decay characteristics between instruments. The result is a greatly heightened sense of focus—as if the headphone is pulling you into closer and more intimate contact with the music, yet without sounding artificially exaggerated or “etched” in any way.
Where many audio products create the illusion of superior “detail” through tipped-up frequency response “bumps” in the upper midrange and/or treble region, the LCD-2 gives you the genuine article—superior resolution without any excess brightness at all. In fact, the LCD-2 pulls off one of the most difficult tricks in all of high-end audio, which is that it manages to sound highly detailed yet utterly relaxed and completely unstrained at the same time.
Unlike some otherwise great planar magnetic headphones (for example, the HiFiMAN HE-6’s), the LCD-2 is fairly sensitive and comparatively easy to drive. In practice this means that the LCD-2 can and does deliver a full-bodied sound and full-throated dynamics when powered by good by not necessarily high-powered headphone amps that would never have enough dynamic “oomph” to be able to power the HiFiMAN HE-6’s properly. What is more, the LCD-2 responds beautifully to demanding dynamic swells in the music, delivering dynamic clout on demand. This is one area where I’ve found that top-shelf planar magnetic headphones generally seem superior to electrostatic headphones. Specifically, my sense is that with the better planar magnetic design output levels scale quite faithfully with the demands of the music, where with electrostatic models output scales accurately to a point, but ultimately seems to reach a point beyond which the sound can become a bit congested or compressed.
Finally, let me mention one specific performance characteristic that can, under ideal circumstances, make the LCD-2’s sound downright magical. The characteristic to which I refer is one where the broad middle of LCD-2’s midrange sounds positively luminous (and let me acknowledge a debt to Stereophile reviewer Sam Tellig, who once wrote about the midrange of SET [single-ended triode] amplifiers sometimes having this same illuminated-from-within quality). All I know is that when this quality manifests itself—as it often does when you hear good recordings through the LCD-2—you may feel, as I did, an unusually intense and vivid connection to the music. This is what truly makes the LCD-2 special.